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Cancer patients encouraged to plan future care choices

Monday 22 March, 2021

Cancer Council Victoria is encouraging people affected by cancer to discuss their future care preferences with loved ones and health care professionals as part of National Advance Care Planning Week.

Advance care planning helps clarify a patient’s values and choices to assist doctors in aligning treatment with an individual’s preferences.

Research from Advance Care Planning Australia shows that 65 per cent of people affected by cancer want to be involved in decisions about end-of-life care, but only 4 per cent are having these discussions with their doctor.

Ken Bottrell lost his wife Dale to lung cancer in 2019.

Dale had developed an advance care directive three years before she died. The directive made sure her family and the health professionals involved in her care had clear instructions on how to best care for her when she could no longer speak for herself.

“As her cancer progressed I think Dale recognised advance care planning as an opportunity to be clear about what she wanted,” Ken said.

“Dale had always had a strong sense of herself. She was always sure about what was important to her and what she wanted in life and this guided her decisions through her cancer journey.”

Ken strongly encourages other people affected by cancer to talk to loved ones about their future care options.

“Having lived through this experience with Dale and my family, I’m very passionate about advance care planning. For us, advance care planning meant that Dale’s final weeks were filled with the dignity and grace that she deserved,” he said.

“Just as she had written in her plan, her pain and other symptoms were managed, making it easier for all of us to be there and say our goodbyes.” 

Cancer Council Victoria’s Head of Strategy and Support Danielle Spence said people affected by cancer need to be supported to make the choices that are right for them when it comes to treatment and care.

“People with cancer often face complex and difficult decisions related to treatment, particularly in the later stages of illness, so it’s important that families and loved ones have an understanding of a patient’s wishes as early as possible to be able to support them,” she said.

Ms Spence said there were many reasons why doctors and health professionals didn’t have advance care conversations with patients.

“We also know that these conversations can be tricky and at times emotional. However, we know some people affected by cancer want to have these conversations to have the opportunity to plan ahead and document their wishes,” Ms Spence said.

National Advance Care Planning Week runs from March 22 to 26. Advance Care Planning Australia is hosting a free webinar on advance care planning for people affected by cancer on March 24. Visit advancecareplanning.org.au to learn more or contact Advance Care Planning Australia’s advisory service on 1300 208 582.

For more information and support regarding cancer call Cancer Council Victoria’s nurses on 13 11 20 or visit cancervic.org.au. For information about preparing a will and organising finances, call Cancer Council’s Legal and Financial Referral Service on 13 11 20.